Billionaire Richard Branson: Steve Jobs Broke All The Rules I Believe In

Billionaire Richard Branson: Steve Jobs Broke All The Rules I Believe In

Branson in 2010 at a NYC event. (Photo by david_shankbone - http://flic.kr/p/7ZWvcn)

Don’t you go all warm when a billionaire able to pal around with lions and tigers jumps all over how Steve Jobs led Apple? Seems Richard Branson would roll differently as Apple CEO. No yelling at employees or being such a control freak. Yep, the Virgin Group CEO would create a kindler, gentler Apple right from the pages of “I’m OK, You’re OK.”

In an interview for his blog, Branson said he liked Jobs, but not how he treated Apple employees.

I admired Steve Jobs, although he was completely different from me. He used to shout at employees that made mistakes. He did not delegate much, and broke all the rules I believe in. Somehow it worked for him. Apple is one the best brands in the world.

I devote most of my time to activities like The Elders [A South-African NGO], but I make it a point to take care of things that are important to Virgin, like hiring its key executives. I interviewed Josh Bayliss, the Group’s CEO, in the back seat of my car while waiting in a traffic jam that lasted almost two hours. Now, he makes money so I can spend it. Learning to delegate is vital in business. You have to be willing to let people do good things and let make them mistakes…

Yes, Jobs was often seen as a bully by both his Cupertino, Calif. employees and his business partners, but there was more to his management style than that, which Branson ignores. Branson says he delegates responsibility and allows workers to make mistakes. All good and fine, that’s what being different means.

But then Branson says this: “I think that criticizing people is counter-productive. A good leader is someone who praises a person for his or her best efforts, not someone who criticizes.” So why criticize Jobs’s management style? Particularly someone who just recently died?

What do you think? Is Branson talking out of turn here?

  • Apponomix

    I’m sure he was asked

  • CAD4MAC

    Probably not, Branson himself is hugely successful and knows how to run a company. There is no such thing as one rule suites all when running a business. There is no doubt that Steve did an amazinf job with Apple, rising them from the ashes. I don’t think Branson is being harsh or out of line because that is how Steve behaved, just not the whole story.

  • QwaF

    I fail to see anything in this comment that would make me think he is being rude or criticising Jobs. He is just talking about what makes him and Steve different. 

  • Alex james

    theres a typo whereat says “the Virgin Group CEO would create a kindler, gentler Apple.”I think its meant to say kinder.

  • s g

    oh…little snippets like these are a bit out of context. in face, Steve Jobs and Apple are/were out of context. 99.9999999% of the business leaders, CEOs, Founders, etc. could not function their boat as Jobs did. he was the one of the few. so yes…it is odd to you, me, “other CEOs” and Branson.

  • Lori

    the first thing he said was that he admired Steve Jobs.  Agree with Qwaf, he was merely pointing out there two differences and how he would have done things differently. 

  • sudoash

    There’s nothing there that’s criticising or saying what Steve Jobs was doing was wrong. He clearly said he would do it differently. Both methods obviously work/worked.

    As for your last comment “Particularly someone who just recently died?”, this has absolutely nothing to do with it. You can’t keep pulling that card.

  • Richard Coupe

    I’m going to have to stop reading CoM, the verbal fellatio is becoming nauseating. This sort of hyperactive defence of anything Steve™ is what gives Apple users the fanboy image.

    A wildly successful businessman “talking out of turn” for stating that he’d do things differently to – even while admiring – Jobs? Please.

  • Bob Whipple

    I agree 100%. Just an honest comment by a respected businessman. FWIW, I respect Steve Jobs also, but would not have worked for him if it involved personal contact for all the tea in China. Even if I was not on the receiving end of his renowned personal brutality, I would have been sickened by watching him dishing it out to others. Works for some, just not me.

  • infin1023

    Because they are running different kind of business, so he can’t compare their style directly. If he run Apple using his way, we have another Dell or HP.

  • apluralist

    Branson makes nothing. He’s a classic late stage CEO: he’s coming in to find new ways to make money from other people’s ideas. Shut up, Jackass, not a soul will remember your name a decade after you’re gone.

  • sudoash

    Narrow-minded American?

  • Gregintosh

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. Both have their own styles and both seem to work. In business, there’s no such thing as the wrong way or the right way to make a profit. There’s just profit, you either make it or  you don’t.

    Steve Jobs wasn’t the perfect CEO or executive. He happened to be successful and he deserves credit for some of the good decisions he made, but that’s not to say he was flawless and any criticism of his style is unwarranted. And also the circumstances and sheer luck/chance can’t be ignored either.

    I run my own business and it is doing pretty well right now. No doubt, a good part of that is thanks to my leadership, management, marketing abilities, etc. But also a good deal of that is that I got lucky and found a few great clients who completely transformed my business for the better with their money and patronage. 

    The way I met both of my most important clients was also through complete chance and not through my traditional marketing channels. Basically, a lot of stars aligned that I had little or no control over that when combined with my skills and abilities as a businessman produced the success that exists today for me. Without the luck/chance events that led me to signing these clients, I would have probably been doing alright but no where near as well as I am doing today.

    The point of that story is to illustrate that being a good leader and manager are only half the battle. There are millions of people out there who are entrepreneurial and who have business educations and would make good managers and leaders. Heck, there’s probably a million people who could come up with great ideas like Steve did if only given the chance but they’ll never get their “audition” or opportunity to demonstrate that. You also need a bit of luck.

    Kind of like a talented actor who still needs to be lucky enough to be discovered, or a band who needs to have their demo tape be heard by the right people.

    Read any story of a Fortune 500 CEO/Executive/Founder and you will see a story of a smart person with a lot of abilities and skills catching many lucky breaks, without which they would be just another anonymous businessman/woman making a pretty good life but no where near where they are today.

    Steve Jobs is no exception. For just one example, consider this: Steve Jobs ends up in another Foster family that doesn’t happen to live in Silicon Valley where access to technology, venture capital, and other innovators isn’t as readily available as walking down the street (for example, let’s put steve in Lincoln, Nebraska or Mobile, Alabama) and Apple would never have existed and he would never have gotten the chance to showcase his product prowess.

    Or imagine he isn’t asked to come back to Apple in 1997 and Apple goes out of business. Again, no platform from which to launch iTunes, the iPad, etc. Or what if they never got the venture capital they needed (which is a hard thing to get for most start ups!) and Apple fizzles out in its early days, never gets off the ground. Or IBM goes ahead and buys Xerox before Apple gets to see the code, and IBM launches a GUI based computer and puts Apple out of business. So many things could have played out differently that are beyond Steve’s control that could have turned Steve from this magical character to just another generic engineer or businessman, no more or less successful than the millions already out there making decent, but unglamorous lifestyles for themselves.

    Steve Jobs was just a man, and not a perfect one. He had many flaws, including some fundamental flaws in how he did business. But he was good at what he did (not detracting from his skills) and caught some lucky breaks. Good job on him, and good job on the universe for aligning those stars to give us this larger than life story. Let’s not elevate the man to god-like or saint status. He was just a man.

  • Paul Hackner

    Richard Branson is a jack of all trades and master of none. An opportunist who has stumbled into companies with a view to a profit. Steve Jobs was a genius who was there to advance technology and design and along the way happened to make some money.

  • WVMikeP

    Did you somehow miss the name of the blog on the way in?

  • Alexander Popov

    Hey Ed, why don’t you ask Leander. I bet he’ll agree with Richard Branson.
    A good leader does not have to be mean and insensitive to his staff in order to be effective. Just because Steve was the way he was does not make it right. Sure he was a genius, but that’s no excuse …

  • Dave Greene

    Sounds like you’ve read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

  • morgan3nelson

    The Virgin Group? Ask any one off the street if they know what the Virgin Group is and I am certain you will get blank stare and hear crickets. Ask that same person if they know about Apple and you will likely get some lengthy responses.  Different Industries and radically different results.  Steve Jobs not only changed and Industry, he changed the World.  Branson changes charities like I change shirts, but has made no significant impact upon humanity.

  • minimalist1969

    Wait, when did criticizing someones actions become “out of turn”.  That is precisely how civilized people are supposed to have debates.  Criticize words and actions, not the person.  You can still admire someones achievments and disagree with their methods.  

    I totally get that many of the brightest minds in history have been self absorbed, petulant “l’enfant terribles.”  The design worlds are full of people like this who think this is how you behave to get ahead.    But there have been others who have achieved greatness using a quieter more positive management  style.   Given all the ambitious people out there who will adopt Job’s business style (unfortunately without any of his innate talent) and tell themselves “this is how great people behave” then I think its wise to bring up that not all great people in history achieved their status by behaving like borderline sociopaths.

  • Byron Taylor

    Steve Jobs practically put Virgin out of business. When’s the last time you saw a Virgin store? Branson’s just doing sour grapes.

  • Lake Pancake

    To summarize comments: An extremely silly article.  Nothing to see here, move along.

  • Sam Parmenter

    I don’t think thats fair. I think he would be an idiot wherever he happened to live. Ask a guy who manages in a different way to Steve Jobs what he thought of his management and the chances are, they will have different idea.

    This is such a non article is actually funny to read all the sad fanboys wading in as if Richard Branson has just called Steve Jobs a nobody. They work in different areas and have different management styles. If they thought the other persons method of management was the best method, they wouldn’t have their own distinct ideas would they.

    Christ, its really not very tricky to rile the idiots is it.

  • Sam Parmenter

    Ahh, so we should expect non-articles like this and to have to listen to idiots rage over absolutely nothing. If thats what you think this site should be then its a worry.

  • Shameer Mulji

    Exactly.  I’m from Vancouver.  Right now Apple is negotiating to move into a huge two-storey complex on a major shopping street in our city.  Guess who used to occupy that space? That’s right, Virgin.  Out with the old, in with the new.

  • Stuart Willard

    Coming from a man who runs businesses that no one seems able to fathom the profits from because of deliberate cross shareholdings and obscure off shore ownerships, not to mention his early suspect business techniques, yep I think we ought to listen to him about morality and good business practice. Now we can add ‘coward’ too to his repertoire with the pathetic timing of this self promoting dribble. ‘Clothes’, ‘The’ and ‘Emperor’ come rapidly to mind. Jobs used marketing to actually achieve something other than simple self promotion Richard.

  • Stuart Willard

    Yes they dont exist any more rather like most of his transitory businesses actually. Most existing ones other than the airline are simply pay a fee to use the name, the only thing he has actually been successful at via promoting through childish stunts.

  • “fanbois”

    Wow. What does being American have to do with anything? He might be from elsewhere, as many love Jobs who aren’t American. Narrow-minded fits you quite well, Snowdon.

  • Cindon83

    At least Steve Job’s wore a T-Shirt under his white dress shirt

  • WVMikeP

    I’d expect nothing more or less from 9to5Google or WinSupersite either.

    This is a blog.  Look for journalism elsewhere.

  • aardman

    I don’t think Sir Richard would be successful running Apple.  Steve was first and foremost a product visionary.  His ability to come up with (or identify) successful new product categories, and his ability to hew to that product vision throughout the development process is the key to his success.  Branson is more a promotions visionary.  His products are really old line blah products but boy did he know how to promote them, partly by promoting himself which he seems to thoroughly enjoy.

  • vanmacguy

    Everyone has different management styles that’s all. Mine is more like Branson’s. I think Jobs’ style takes a lot more confidence than most of us have, confident that you’re *always* right even when you’re wrong. That’s a tough thing for most of us to wrap ourselves around, so no I don’t think he’s talking out of turn.

    Branson built an amazing brand too, but his was based on an older way of doing things and when iTunes came along, his brand crumbled because it was built on old ways. Not because he had a bad brand. Virgin is still very respected.

  • Stuart Otterson

    I use to idolise Richard Branson as a kid, but as I grew older it became rather apparent my admiration for him as a businessman was probably misplaced. With all due respect, whilst successful, Virgin has never met its full potential. It’s a horrible collection of different businesses that at best share the same branding and at worse are actually owned by different companies who license for the brand name.

    There’s not a lot of synergy or a coherent strategy that unifies the businesses. Now perhaps that’s fine for him but personally I’d want to try and use all those resources to drive a business ideology much like Apple does.

    He’s delegated too many responsibilities, allowed too many different businesses to do their own thing and it’s no surprise so many have now closed down. Through the late 90s and 00s all these various closures have only served to damage Virgin as a brand, least in my eyes. And as @google-e42be72e283066ea9f324de7f33245f8:disqus said, he’s become a jack of all trades with no particular specialist talent. At best Virgin Atlantic and Trains are well known.

    I don’t see much of a future for Virgin in 20 years time, especially after Branson has retired.

  • Charlie Steinmetz

    Branson misses the point.  Jobs wanted insanely great, and got it from people.  He inspired people to do much more than they ever individually thought they were possible of.  Not an Apple employee, but, from experience, when you can please a leader / visionary like Steve Jobs, you have to go to bed feeling really really good about your day.

  • Aaron

    “I interviewed Josh Bayliss, the Group’s CEO, in the back seat of my car…”

    Oh, so THAT’S how you get hired at Virgin! No more casting couch.

  • Mike Key ?

    That’s because Branson has a completely different objective from Steve Jobs. As another commentator pointed out, Jobs wanted to make insanely great products. Branson has always been about making money. His lifestyle as a playboy is the proof that his business and companies are about supporting his lifestyle.

  • Robert Pallante

    “I think that criticizing people is counter-productive. A good leader is someone who praises a person for his or her best efforts, not someone who criticizes.”
    What? Why say something is great when it’s not, you’ll loose money.

    If you criticize someone, they won’t make that fault again. Let people fail and know the fail, that’s the only way they’ll succeed.

  • Stuart Otterson

    Pretty much, seeing how he owns an island and such. I’m disappointed by the lack of ambition to do something more with the assets he has, but you know, I completely understand he’s got his own things going.

    It’s easy to criticise others and take pot shots like I have saying they could of done such and such, I just gotta hope one day if I am ever in such a position to become successful I can stick to my own ambitions and objective.

  • Frank Lowney

    Like many financially successful people, Branson has no clue as to why he is successful but refuses to accept the proposition that much of it was pure dumb luck.

  • Bob Forsberg

    Measure real success before accepting a critics rambling comments.

  • STRIPBLUNTS

    Steve Jobs accomplished more in the 70’s & 80’s than this “douche” will ever do in his lifetime! Branson only knows how to invest in trends, he’s clueless to what people actually want or need!!

  • MarkusOliver

    As Steve was saying “If you don’t like the way we are doing things here at Apple – then don’t work here” Steve was hands on – all eyes on him – success / failure will reflect upon him directly … Branson is hiding behind his Group CEO ready to point finger if something goes wrong… Sure Branson don’t have to act “out” like Steve hence he is never on the Frontline and he himself is never in that position to be judged upon directly for his short comings …. Being a Leader or leading a company is total different cup of tea.. I stand behind Steve and his way of being a true leader as the visionary genius person he was and always will be remembered for – Nothing much to remember about Branson beside his island and having sing song guests on it …. – and yes I am a Group CEO of my own Group of Companies with over 500 employees – Hands on and as well very outspoken and not afraid to make decisions which will lead me to success or mistakes ..
    But again – thats just my personal point of view no offense …

  • shherr

    Overreacting. He didn’t “[jump] all over” Jobs at all. He said he admired him, and that their styles and opinions on management are different. He acknowledged that Jobs’ style worked for him. I don’t get why you guys are so mad. It’s not like this guy just called your dad an idiot.

  • sudoash

    I wasn’t implying that all Americans are narrow-minded. I was simply stating that his tone was edging towards the fact that Branson (being non American) isn’t successful. He isn’t making money from other people’s ideas — if the poster stepped his mind outside the US for a second, he would know that.

    Admittedly, my post was far too meaningless and could be interpreted in multiple ways, apologies.

  • InkyDavid

    The only source we have of Richard Branson’s corporate humility is from Richard Branson. Who knows what kind of boss he is behind closed doors?  The sheer timing certainly looks like he’s using Steve Jobs to promote himself. Steve Jobs never had a reality show; he was too busy working in reality.

  • InkyDavid

    Richard Branson would be respected a lot more if he’d just admit he’s Iron Man.

  • Richard Coupe

    I have this crazy desire to see news – and not poor attempts at inciting a lynch mob – from a site that describes itself as a “daily news site”.

About the author

Ed SutherlandEd Sutherland is a veteran technology journalist who first heard of Apple when they grew on trees, Yahoo was run out of a Stanford dorm and Google was an unknown upstart. Since then, Sutherland has covered the whole technology landscape, concentrating on tracking the trends and figuring out the finances of large (and small) technology companies.

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